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On February 29, 1912, a fairly obscure army captain rushed from a meeting in a modest second-floor law office in Bangkok to deliver some urgent news to a fellow officer who taught at the army cadet school.1 On receiving the news, the cadet school instructor, who had connections higher up, led the captain to Prince Phanthuprawat, chief of a unit of army engineers. Prince Phanthuprawat took the news to the top, to Prince Chakra­bongs, the Army Chief of Staff and Acting Minister of Defense.

The Abortive Coup of 1912

The news was startling, and it was bad. For the captain’s story was that he had just attended a meeting of junior military officers who were plotting a revolt against the leadership of King Vajiravudh. The government moved fast. Prince Chakrabongs rushed to Nakhο̨n Pathom to inform the King. By the following day arrests were under 54way. On the morning of March 2 a government press release indicated that matters were under control.2

The abortive coup of 1912 was more than a dramatic episode in the history of modern Thailand. The motives of its leaders showed the spread of Western political ideas, including the idea of nation­alism, among the Thai people. Some of these ideas, in the forms in which the coup leaders expressed them, bear unmistakable traces of His Majesty’s own rhetoric. The abortive coup of 1912, then, in some respects constituted an indirect tribute to the effectiveness of Vajira­vudh’s nationalistic message.

The essential aims of the 1912 coup group were not entirely in the category of political idealism. Dissatisfaction with the King on a much more personal level was, in fact, the first stimulus to revolu­tionary thought. The coup idea seems to have originated in an incident that occurred shortly before Vajiravudh became king. A small group of soldiers got into a quarrel with a group of pages of the then Crown Prince Vajiravudh over the favors of a girl who sold betel nut. The quarrel ended with the soldiers, armed with sticks, chasing the pages back into the safety of Parusakawan Palace. The following day the Crown Prince demanded redress for the insult to his position by the application of an old provision of the palatine law that called for lashing on the back with a rattan rod. King Chulalongkorn at first resisted. So did the Minister of Justice, Prince Rabi, who pleaded that the new Westernized penal code made lashing with the rattan out­moded. (Undoubtedly both the King and the Prince were concerned over the possible bad effects that the resumption of such “barbaric” practices would have on Western states at the very time Siam was seeking to achieve removal of treaty restrictions on its juridical sovereignty.) The Crown Prince insisted. The beatings were adminis­tered, and the seeds of embitterment with Vajiravudh were planted among the military and among some members of the legal profession.3

Personal antipathy to the Prince intensified after he became king in 1910. Testimonies of those involved in the 1912 abortive coup show a wide range of criticisms: coup members spoke not only of Vajiravudh’s insistence on the “shameful” beatings but also of his “absorption in putting on plays” and indulgence in other extravagant diversions; his overfondness for the Wild Tiger Corps, whose maneu­vers were no better than “playacting”; his waste of money in “build­ing various palaces”; and his excessive devotion to “officials in the royal household” who were “eating up the kingdom” and who in­sulted those beneath them. Some criticisms circulated in the form of 55rumors.4 These criticisms were generalized into comments such as “The King does not pay attention to the government” and “Our country will be in danger of foreign exploitation because of the wickedness of one person.”

The personal antipathy to the King on the part of some of the coup members, however, became part of a larger picture. It merged with, and can hardly be separated from, the conviction that absolute monarchy in Siam was outmoded and must go. None of the coup leaders held that the removal of “one person” was the whole solution to Siam’s problems. The coup leaders spoke against “obligation to one solitary person”; they spoke for “faithfulness to the Thai nation.”

In the area of political ideology, the ideas of the coup party of 1912 were far from mature. A few of the coup members knew some­thing of outside events and attempted to instruct the others in the idea that absolute monarchy was an unprogressive and dying institu­tion, that virtually all other states in the world were either constitu­tional monarchies or republics. They told less-well-read members about the forms of governments in Europe and America, the success of Japan after its adoption of a constitution, the movement of the Young Turks, the democratic revolution in Portugal, and finally and above all, the victory of the Kuomintang in China. Siam, they said, was behind the times; Siam also needed a parliament, in which the people could have a voice in government, in order to progress economically, socially, politically. The coup group, however, had not yet crystallized its thoughts on the form of government best suited to Siam. Some opted for a republic. The majority appear to have favored having a king under law, that is, a constitutional monarchy. But no constitution had been drawn up, no clear political path for the future had been agreed upon.

The lack of a precise political goal, however, was not seen as an obstacle to taking political action in the interests of the nation. The nationalistic purposes of the coup group are hard to question. Patriotic slogans abounded and were convincingly phrased. The nation’s lack of progress, the poverty of the people, the susceptibility of the country to foreign domination were all cited as real ills. All Thai had to love their country and put its interests before all else. Death was preferable to national slavery. It is paradoxical that many of the remarks and slogans of the coup party closely reflected the ideas of the King himself. Said one coup member, “We are Thai and must love our nation and religion and land of our birth”—a paraphrase of the King’s own “nation, religion, and king,” with “land of our 56birth” substituted for “king.” The motto of the coup party was “Give up life rather than nation”—almost identical to the Wild Tiger motto “Give up life rather than honor.”5

Although the coup members focused mainly on internal affairs, they took an occasional glance at the presumed reaction of the outside world. The prevailing thought seemed to be that foreigners who looked down on the Thai as unprogressive, who even criticized the Thai king for his judicial practices, would be favorably impressed by a move toward constitutionalism. The view was also put forth that the existing government was exercising too harsh a policy with respect to local Chinese, that this policy had to be changed or it might lead to revolts of the Chinese in Siam and to severe action on the part of the Chinese republican government.6

The King’s very stress on the crucial need for national defense was used by the coup party, and used against him. The argument here repeated the King’s own comments that long peace in Siam had led to national weakness and consequent disadvantage in terms of outside power. The coup members, almost all of whom were soldiers, however, faulted the King for not giving adequate support to the regular armed forces. The army, they said, lacked weapons; its leaders were ignored.7 The real defense of the kingdom was not being prepared to do its job. The cry “Can all of us soldiers and Thai just silently watch our Thai nation be destroyed?” yielded the answer “No, of course not.” Indeed, the coup leaders argued, soldiers were the only element in society brave enough and in a strong enough position to do something to remedy the situation.

Some of the coup leaders undoubtedly had selfish motives as well as political and nationalistic ones, but the self-serving motivation appears not to have been dominant. Only a few of the secret, and often extremely frank, testimonies refer at all to the relatively poor wages and the slow promotions in the army. Perhaps if the coup party had grown larger in numbers, and with such growth had appeared more likely to succeed, the numbers of those who joined in the hopes of gaining personal advantage would have become more significant.

The organization and tactical plans of the 1912 coup party had serious weaknesses. What started out as barracks-room talk, in which some junior officers of like mind discovered each other, was formalized in an organizational meeting of a core group of seven officers on January 13, 1912. This meeting was followed by some ten or eleven subsequent meetings through the rest of January and all of February. The main purposes of the meetings were recruitment and indoctrination. 57Recruitment was on a person-to-person basis. By the end of February somewhat over one hundred people had attended meetings, and recruitment among provincial military units had just begun. Although most recruits came from army units in Bangkok, a few civilians—mostly lawyers and translators—and some three or four young naval officers had joined the coup party by the end of February. Members were asked for financial support8 and help in spreading the word. The coup group members were very young; almost all were in their early twenties.9

The recruitment arguments followed the antimonarchic and pro-nationalistic lines already presented above. Appeals were also made to new members to be with the times, to be modern and not old-fashioned. Hints that the group was large, numbering into the hun­dreds, and had friends in high places among senior officers were also used by original coup members. Although the direct and unsupport­able claim that Prince Chakrabongs was sympathetic to the group seems not to have been made, new members were well aware that the coup party leader, Dr. Leng Sičhan (an army captain, with the title of Khun Thawaihanphithak), was the personal physician to the Prince and his family. Recruits were encouraged to think that if Dr. Leng were the head of the party then there must be important men in the nation backing it.10

It would appear from some of the testimonies of those arrested that they became involved by deception: they were invited to a meeting to “shoot birds” or to have a social evening only to discover that they were listening to conspiratorial talk; then they were pledged to secrecy, usually by the administration of an oath, solemnized by a ritual in which a bullet was dropped into a glass of liquor, which was passed around for all to drink. The claim to innocent or reluctant involvement is hard to credit, however; it seems to have been the natural defense of men accused of a serious crime. More than one coup member specifically denied the innocence of anyone who went to meetings and asserted that men were carefully screened before they were invited to an indoctrination session.11

The original plans of the nucleus coup group were for ten years of preparation, but it became clear by the second meeting that it would be impossible to maintain secrecy for such a long period. The new plans, far from complete by the end of February, called for action in early April at the annual ceremony in which the King would accept the oath of allegiance of his officials. Coup members who formed part of the royal guard would then surround His Majesty and compel him 58to yield to their demands. Those demands, although not yet decided on, would at a minimum be for King Vajiravudh to promise to grant his people a constitution and place himself under law; if the King were unwilling to make this concession, he would be replaced by Prince Chakrabongs. Some coup members suggested that Prince Chakrabongs be named constitutional monarch from the outset. Still others sug­gested that the monarchy be completely abolished and a republic instituted, with Prince Rabi installed as first president. Of these three plans, the second, calling for installation of Chakrabongs as king, seems to have been most popular by the end of February. The coup members, of course, expected to have all of March to perfect their plans and make their final decisions.

Two other “plans” emerge from the sources, but neither is well substantiated. One called for the coup group to take no action other than to petition the King for a constitution; this “plan,” articulated by a small number of those arrested, sounds like an after-the-fact attempt to reduce culpability. As violent as the petitioning-plan was mild was the second “plan”: a plot by coup members to “do violence” to the King. According to some rumors, the plotters had planned to kill the King.12 The charge of violence was, in fact, made by the court martial judges and by the King.13 It was, however, heartily denied by all those implicated both at the time of the coup and later, and seems to have been based primarily on an ill-advised attempt by one of the coup members, after the arrests had taken place, to threaten govern­ment leaders with a cannonading unless those arrested were freed. This threat apparently transformed the early lenient disposition of the King into a mood of bitterness and harshness.14

Discussions among coup members about the best alternative to King Vajiravudh as leader of Siam reveal something of coup mentality. Prince Chakrabongs, although completely oblivious of the fact, was undoubtedly the leading contender. He was, first of all, an army man and would therefore presumably be most sympathetic to the specific army grievances held by the majority of coup members. Further, he was seen as an honest man whose heart was with the people; on maneuvers, for example, he sloshed with his troops in the rain. A second choice among the princes was Prince Paribatra, the Minister of Marine, whose candidacy was supported by the naval officers. The only other name to be put forward was that of Prince Rabi (the Prince of Ratburi), who had a reputation for fairness, based, no doubt, on his opposition, as Minister of Justice, to the flogging of the army officers.15 Prince Rabi was the favored candidate for the Thai presidency among those who wanted a republic. At no time, apparent­ly, 59was it even vaguely suggested that Dr. Leng or other leaders of the coup party should themselves take over top positions in the government.

The sentences given the coup members were made public on May 5, 1912. Ninety-one persons were found guilty of conspiracy. Three were sentenced to death; twenty, to life imprisonment; the remainder, to prison terms of twenty, fifteen, or twelve years. The King, in an act of clemency to show that he did not “entertain any feelings of revenge,”16 immediately reduced all sentences: the death penalty was reduced to life imprisonment; life imprisonment was reduced to twenty years; the remaining sixty-eight prison sentences were re­duced to suspended sentences.17 In a final act of clemency twelve years later, in November 1924, all prisoners were freed.

It is difficult to measure the real effect of the abortive coup of 1912 on the thinking of the King or other Thai of the times. The foreign-language press in Bangkok speculated that the “present dis­affection” and the “mutinous doctrines” were but the manifestations of the spirit of “liberty and progress” and the “wave of unrest” then sweeping through Asia; that the coup movement, although it did not “touch the masses,” did indicate the existence of a “growing force of public opinion” that “requires guidance.”18 Editorials saw the coup as showing that “patriotism is an enormously greater force than it was a score or so of years ago.”19 But, the press pointed out, “the new reign has furnished evidence enough that the progress of the nation continues unhasting and unresting, and that the new spirit is under­stood and appreciated by the monarch.”20 The King’s reduction of the sentences of the coup members was seen by one paper as giving “full proof” that

he holds liberal views, that he has not desired nor does desire to withhold that discussion of public questions which is the right of a free people, so long as the expression of these views does not harm his country. His Majesty desires to see the people capable of taking their part in the affairs of state and has no intention of restricting their free speech during the interval that must elapse before the public are fit for the high duties involved …. The wise decision of the King to treat the conspiracy more as a youthful exaggeration than a serious endeavor will draw the teeth of demagogues and at the same time satisfy the legitimate aspirations of the people.21

The opinions in the foreign press on the effects of the coup seem largely wishful thinking. There is little evidence that the discovery of the coup plans resulted in any important change in public policy; 60there is no evidence that it fundamentally shook the King’s confidence in the monarchic institution.

Among the relatively minor changes that may be attributed to coup influence were two that came in April. One was the transfer of the highest court of appeal in the country from the office of the King to the Ministry of Justice. This move was seen as “a modification of the constitution in the direction of extending the reign of law.”22 A second change that seems likely to have been a response to coup leaders’ criticisms of the King’s prodigality was the King’s removal of the Privy Purse Department from a tax-exempt category. By this action all the King’s personal lands and properties were to be subject to the same taxes as those levied on properties of ordinary citizens, for, as the King explained, “Apart from the official side, I consider myself as being on the same footing as any ordinary person.”23 Other changes of some significance included various efforts to enhance the prestige of the army and to modify the training of Wild Tigers.24

The army, for its part, made one innovation that seemed calculated to improve the overall image of the army in the King’s eyes. This was the formation in May 1912 of a voluntary Association to Promote the Army of Siam. To show their love of land and king, association members agreed to forgo a portion of their pay (1 percent was the minimum) to raise funds to buy the army some heavy artillery.25

Defense of the Monarchy

King Vajiravudh, like his father before him, saw kingship as natural to Siam, essential to Siam’s progress. He saw Siam’s successes in history as the results of wise royal leadership. And he saw loyalty to the monarch as one of the three necessary loyalties for the further develop­ment of Siam as a united, progressive, modern state. Together with loyalty to nation and religion, loyalty to the king was part of his definition of nationalism.

The essentiality of loyalty to the king is stressed again and again and again in Vajiravudh’s writings and addresses; it is a perennial theme throughout his reign. In an essay of 1915, for example, Vaji­ravudh made loyalty to the king part of the very definition of a “true Thai.”26 In some speeches and essays the theme is developed at length. It is the entire subject of a speech to the Wild Tigers in June 1911. Indeed, the first part of the Wild Tiger oath was an oath of loyalty to the king. In the 1911 speech Vajiravudh told why.27

First of all, Vajiravudh made clear that he supported the pledge of loyalty to the king not because he was king; it was the institution 61he supported. And his support was based on belief in a Hobbesian history of man in a primitive state, with the device of a leader finally being adopted by tribal groups in order to achieve external protection and internal order. The leader, or king, received the delegated power of the group and used that power for the benefit of the group. So the show of honor and respect to the king was in effect a show of honor and respect to the entire group, each of whose members had yielded power so that it could be combined in the person of the king. And, by the same token, deprecation of the king amounted to self-depreca­tion. The withholding of respect or obligation to the king simply amounted to a loss of power for the leader, making him less able to do the tasks that he was delegated to do for the group. The King proceeded to give examples showing the necessity to delegate power. Ships needed captains, and captains must command. Similarly with the ship of state, whose captain was the king. Further, the king had symbolic significance. For power is an abstract term and, like such terms as good and evil, was hard for earlier peoples to understand unless anthropomorphized. Just as good was personified as a god or an angel, and bad as a devil or demon, so power was seen in the form of a king; the king became the visible expression of the glory of the land. That glory belonged to everyone in the nation, and it was the duty of all to protect it and defend it. Anyone who would harm the king could only be considered as someone who was exceedingly evil and would do harm to the nation, would destroy the peace and welfare of the group.

From these abstractions and rationales for royal power, the King in his June 1911 speech dropped to a more personal level. He chided those who thought being king was a desirable job, a job with an enormous income, all kinds of personal perquisites, and freedom from any restraint. If a king could merely indulge himself, do nothing but devote himself to pleasure, then his position would be enviable. But the duties of a conscientious monarch were onerous indeed. And Vajiravudh could be nothing but conscientious, a king who would do his duty “to the best of my ability and strength,” a king who was “prepared to sacrifice my pleasures, my body, even my life for the good of the nation.” All he asked of the Wild Tigers and of his people was that they work with him, for “if we sink, we all sink; if we are saved, we are all saved.” In any case, however the ship might fare in the stormy seas, “I will not abandon you, I will not flee.”28

In an extension of his remarks on royal conscientiousness, Vaji­ravudh depicted himself as the moral exemplar of the state. In an 62address to students at the Royal Pages School in 1915 he likened the task of students and of government officials to that of a mountain climber. He said, in part:

I try to climb the mountain every day. The mountain I climb is much higher than yours. Yours is but a small hill whose top is soon reached. But the mountain I climb—its top cannot be seen. Therefore I ask you to bear in mind that whatever the dimensions of your difficulties, I also experience difficulties and fatigue. I do not believe I am in any way better off than you.29

More than moral exemplar, the king, in Vajiravudh’s view, was the ultimate source of all power in the state. Since all power and justi­fication for authority ultimately went back to the throne, officials should not assume that they had any authority in their own right. Officials should not expect commoners to respect them for their ranks or titles. They should not be respected because of their high birth, their position as “gentlemen” (phudi). For a “gentleman”—the Thai word literally means “good person”—who behaves poorly is no gentleman, and an ordinary man of good deportment is.30 An official must earn his title of respect and his label of gentleman by rigorously adhering to the royal will and by serving, as the monarch himself does, as a moral example to all the people.31 In the end the official is but the pale reflected light of His Majesty’s brilliance. And the people know this:

Why do people respect the nobles? Only because they know the nobles convey a part of royal power. They do not respect the persons of the nobles as such. If you don’t believe me, imagine what would happen if someone went into the countryside claiming he was a čhaophraya by virtue of his commission from the King of Cambodia or the King of Burma. Would he get the people’s respect? Not at all!32

While Vajiravudh was not loath to have his people believe in the traditional special powers, the karmic royal virtues, that Thai kings were thought to possess,33 in his public remarks he stressed the human rather than superhuman qualities of the king and the pragmatic bene­fits of kingship. In his Wild Tiger addresses he was fond of speaking of himself as just another Thai citizen or as a friend; in his addresses to young people he asked that his words be regarded as those “of a teacher and not those of the king.”34 The Thai king, he pointed out, was not like the ancient king of China whose face could not be looked upon; the Thai people wanted to see their king, and Vajiravudh did not separate himself from his people. Indeed, he moved among them. 63In other lands kings were regarded as angels or gods, but in Siam the king was regarded as a human being. Vajiravudh described himself as but a Thai, with thoughts like those of Thai in general.35

The humanity and accessibility of the Thai monarch are contrasted strongly with the seclusion of the Japanese emperor in a newspaper article the King wrote in 1912 under the pseudonym “Asvabahu, a travelled Siamese.” Vajiravudh remarked that he had long pondered the deeper meanings behind the degree of exposure of the monarch and his relationship with his people. There were advantages and dis­advantages to seclusion and to exposure. The secluded monarch tended to preserve his dignity better, was regarded with more rever­ence. “It is one of the peculiarities of human nature,” said the King, “to prefer showing reverence only to mysteries.” And, “the very mysteriousness of the Emperor of Japan ensures reverence in him.” On the other hand, what the sovereign who exposed himself to his people lost in reverence, he gained in better understanding of his people’s wants and needs and in ability to create a bond of human sympathy between himself and his subjects. The accessible sovereign ran the risk, however, of having his subjects “regard him more in the light of an influential acquaintance, who ought to be of the very greatest use to each of them individually, with the inevitable con­sequence that anyone who does not get everything his own way thinks himself personally and particularly aggrieved, and therefore thinks himself entitled to bear a personal grudge against the Sovereign!” The King continued:

The policy of our own King, however, and that of his August and Beloved Predecessor before him, has always been to grant to his subjects free access to his Person; and, in spite of the disadvantages resulting therefrom, as mentioned above, I would not for worlds have it otherwise. I am sure we ought all to be most grateful to our King for granting us the privilege of free access to his Person; for we like to think of him as a Father, who comes freely among his beloved children, interesting himself in their works, and entering into their fun. A Father who thus comes amongst his children ought surely not to lose his dignity thereby, because a few naughty, spoilt children are impolite and unmannerly enough not to behave themselves properly. My friends, it is up to you to ensure the continuance of that privilege which was voluntarily granted to us; I mean the privilege of free access to our King. Shall we lose the privilege because a few “naughty children” do not know how to behave themselves like gentlemen? There is no need to cringe and crawl, but we can and should give our Sovereign the welcome of the children to the father, the friend! … Surely you could be loyal without being 64slavish, and polite without cringing? Impoliteness is not a sign of independence, but merely a sign of want of breeding!36

But on royal leadership the King insisted. Siam, he said, was fortunate in having had a long history of continuous royal successions. The orderly succession of kings had reduced political discord, had saved the country from foreign threats when Western power began its insistent demands in the nineteenth century:

In their wisdom, our Kings did not set their faces against the stream of progress. On the contrary, they welcomed civilisation and progress with open doors, and our rulers moved along with the stream and have been doing so ever since. Civilisation came to Siam and found no need to knock in any way as insistently as she has had to do in both Japan and China; the stream of progress found no formidable barriers set up purposely in its path, such barriers as were found being merely natural ones, which our wise rulers have always tried to remove as soon as possible.37

The image of King Vajiravudh as captain of the ship of state, developed fully in the speech of June 1911, recurs in many speeches and writings and is alternated with similar images. In one speech the King likens himself to one of the three flags of the Thai people—the others being nation and religion.38 In a poem he looks at the natural world and sees that all things in nature need leaders; even cattle need a leader “to lead the herd where the grass is.”39 And, of course, even the gods have their chief in Indra in the heavens.40

The challenges to absolute monarchy that were so evident in 1912, however, could not go without reply. Such challenges were not entire­ly new in the reign. In fact, King Chulalongkorn in 1887 had been presented with a petition by several of his officials asking that a constitutional monarchy be established in Siam.41 Chulalongkorn could turn away his polite petitioners with a reasoned reply; Vaji­ravudh felt he had to go further.

Even before he became king, Vajiravudh showed that he was his father’s son on the subject of constitutionalism. In 1905 he penned a short sketch of what it would be like if Siam had a parliament. The parliament session he depicted was marked by interminable and pointless speeches, and it ended in chaos.42 Another early essay on parliamentary government, written by a courtier for Vajiravudh’s own journal, undoubtedly reflected Vajiravudh’s views. The essay pointed out that in states with parliaments the law is not fully respected, for laws written by the people cannot be respected by the people in the way that royal law is respected. The essay argued further that parliamentary government was slow and divisive. Government tended to polarize into parties and proved the proverb that “Two lions cannot live in the same cave.” The essayist admitted that in a mon­archical government much depended on the monarch, but he said that in Siam, where the monarch was good, compassionate, and just, the system worked well. Critics of such government in Siam were like those who complained of the soot that emerged from the productive rice mill.4365

Royal Leadership in Siam. King Vajiravudh, through his ability and diligence, raises Siam on the ropes of its soldiery and arms, its internal peace and order, its education, and its agriculture and industry above the level of the Burmese, the Cambodians, and the Vietnamese. The faces behind Vajiravudh represent the previous five Chakkri kings. Cartoon from Dusit samit.

66The essential arguments of Vajiravudh against constitutionalism in Siam, aside from those that stressed the value of the monarchy, were that, in fact, the monarchy was already under law, with a degree of constitutionalism already in existence, and that Siam was not ready for any further constitutionalism. The King dismissed the critics of the monarchy as poorly informed young people at best or self-serving ambitious individuals at worst.

The changes in the constitutional position of the monarchy had come about, said Vajiravudh, through the introduction of new laws granted to the people by the king. In effect such laws limited the power of the king, who could not repress the people at will without violating his own laws. The king was not above the law to do what­ever he wanted, right or wrong. He had to use his power in righteous and productive ways.44 Vajiravudh further claimed that democratic methods had long been exercised in the Thai polity; the founder of the dynasty had indeed been “chosen by the people” after his pre­decessor was deposed for madness.45

On the critics of monarchy, first of all the King said they were very few—“not one in a million.”46 Those few were excessively impressed with foreign ideas. He counseled young people in particular to beware of rumormongers, of those given to extravagant talk,47 of those who looked on all Europeans as “preceptors in the ways of Progress and Civilisation.”48 Students should study European political concepts, but they should judge whether or not such concepts were suitable to the Thai, whether Siam was at the moment ready for such concepts. Further, they should examine their own motives: if they favored certain political changes, did they favor them because these changes would be useful to the majority of the Thai people or because they would suit the purposes of a small minority? Vajiravudh ex­pected that a fair judgment would lead students to reject political change and conclude, with him, that “things of benefit to Europeans might be evils to us.”49 Some critics the King put in the class of people who were merely seeking to avoid their responsibilities to the state by favoring new political orders that would give them personal license to do as they pleased or provide them with new avenues for achieving 67power. These people earned the King’s sharpest castigations as “buffoons” and “sinful destroyers” of the nation.50

Vajiravudh, who was always well read on foreign affairs, was keenly aware of foreign political changes and their impact on educated Thai. The early years of the twentieth century had seen revolutions in Turkey, Portugal, Persia, and China, and in 1917 czarism yielded to Marxism in Russia. The King wrote many essays and translated numbers of articles on these foreign developments.51 His theme was consistent: foreign revolutions were no example for Siam. His writings on China were most numerous, probably because he felt that, with the large Chinese minority in Siam, affairs in China had the greatest potential of causing unrest. In one essay, for example, he doubted the possibility of success for the republican government in China. He could not believe that the Chinese would be able to change their character in a blink of an eye, that they could create “a true republic in my lifetime.”52 And affairs in China as of the end of 1912 seemed to the King to justify his doubts. The political executions, the absence of law, the prevalence of disorder all demonstrated China’s failure to make a foreign polity work. Vajiravudh saw China in chaos, with anarchy, tyranny, and injustice prevailing. He once remarked that Westernizing “politicians” in China had “set back the progress of China by at least a century already!”53

In a series of articles on the Chinese Revolution as of the end of 1912,54 the King explored the details of the Chinese scene so that his people would know the facts and not blindly admire or seek to emulate what they did not understand. Vajiravudh’s conclusion was that “in name at least, the ‘Republic of China’ exists. There is certainly a government in Peking, which calls itself the Republic, but is it a real one? … this seems extremely doubtful.” The King put the republic through various tests and found it consistently wanting. The president had not been elected. Not even the assembly had been elected; it had rather “Like a glorious God in Hindu mythology … sprung into being of its own accord.” The assembly “in no way represents the people”; it “is not a constitutionally representative body.” The King gave the original Chinese revolutionaries credit for good intentions, but he was pessimistic as to how matters would eventually turn out:

I do not in the least doubt that Sun Yat Sen meant to have a republic when he started the revolution. He undoubtedly felt that China was really having a bad time all round, and probably believed that he could save her from total destruction if he could only turn the Manchus out and turn the country into a republic. He counted upon the sympathetic 68interest of people in Europe and America, and he was right. He got it, with his war-cry of “A republic for China.” People in Europe and America have very hazy ideas about China on the whole. They believed the Chinese to be a downtrodden people, and naturally sympathised with them in their struggle for liberty. Then, sure of that sympathy, Sun Yat Sen and his friends went to work with a will, and started preaching revolutionary doctrines and Republicanism to their fellow countrymen. I do not think anyone will contradict me when I say that, to the majority of Chinamen, the revolutionary leaders’ preach­ing conveyed nothing beyond a vague idea, that if the revolution succeeded, they would gain all sorts of wonderful advantages. For example, more wealth would come to them, they would be treated as equals by the Europeans, and so forth; and it cannot be denied that such enthusiasm on their part was infectious, not only to the Chinese themselves, but also to those of other nations, (some Siamese among them), who in point of fact knew but little of Chinese affairs. So Sun Yat Sen started the revolution, and carried it through. He and his friends succeeded in pulling down the Monarchy, but when it came to setting up a republic in its place, they found it not so easy to do as to talk and dream about it. Republics are easy to set up in Dreamland, but it is another thing to do it in China. Sun Yat Sen was no man to build up any sort of government, and he himself knew it. That was why he so kindly left everything to Yuan Shih Kai …. It now only remains for Yuan Shih Kai to carry out his part of the bargain, and establish the Republic of China. For the present, we can not admit that he has done it. Will he ever do it? Will he ever be able to do it in reality? Does he really want to do it?55

In a series of articles on the Young Turks and their revolution, also written in 1912, Vajiravudh was equally critical.56 The principal aim of the young revolutionaries was to bring down Sultan Abdul Hamid, whom they saw as “the one drag upon the progress of Tur­key.” Sultan Abdul, Vajiravudh admitted, had his faults; he was no saint. But then no ruler could afford to be a saint “except in those ancient times, when saintship seemed to have been easier of attain­ment than it is now.” At least the sultan had “kept his head, and also his Empire,” neither of which the Young Turks were able to do.57

In his remarks on Turkey Vajiravudh showed considerable em­pathy for the sultan. In “explaining” the faults of the sultan, he was undoubtedly calling, probably unconsciously, for understanding of his own problems. The King, for example, allowed that corruption had existed among the sultan’s officials. But, asked Vajiravudh, what could the sultan have done? If he had dismissed all corrupt officials, he would soon have been without a government, and any replacements 69he might have found would have been just as corruptible as their predecessors. What the sultan needed, and could not get by snapping his fingers, was a new society with a new morality, with new ideals and standards. It is clear, here, that Vajiravudh had very much in mind the propaganda work he was so actively engaged in—his work to establish in Siam those values without which no regime, constitutional or otherwise, could hope to achieve real reforms.

On the subject of constitutionalism, Vajiravudh stated his belief that Sultan Abdul Hamid “did not consider it wise or advantageous for Turkey to have progressive institutions thrust upon the people before they knew how to benefit by such institutions … that his desire was to go slowly and to gradually introduce such reforms as he felt absolutely sure the people were ready for.”58 The Young Turks, however, a small clique of clever agitators and young officers “who had just enough knowledge in them to make them dangerous,”59 carried out their revolution and deposed the sultan. Carrying out such a revolution was not difficult, for “destruction is terribly easy,”60 especially since the Young Turks felt no need to worry about the opinion of the public, “to consult the opinion of a ‘thing’ like that. Who cares anything as to what the ‘thing’ may do or say?”61 The consequences were foreordained. Since the mass of the people knew nothing of the “blessings of popular government” and “had not the vaguest idea of the meaning of the term parliament,” the Young Turks “had to teach them, by driving them to the poll at the point of the bayonet!” The King remarked, “Parliament in Turkey has been nothing but a farce.”62

The final denunciation of the Young Turks, however, was ac­corded them for their failure to preserve Turkey. By 1912 war had broken out in Turkey’s Balkan provinces, the empire was coming apart, and the Turkish army was collapsing. The “warlike Turkish soldier,” once moved by an “overwhelming sense of loyalty to the Sultan,” had been demoralized by revolutionary propaganda; for this the Young Turks were also held responsible: “… the Young Turks may be said to have killed the ideal Turkish warrior when they killed loyalty and caused the death of discipline.”63 The King summed up his feelings on “the fruits of Turkish constitutionalism” in a scathing denunciation of Turkey’s young revolutionaries:

… they came before us with a swagger, their mouths full of braggadacio, raising false cries of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” spreading the fever of excitement which reached even as far as these parts of Asia, setting the example for all braggarts in the Orient to raise cries for 70“Constitution,” a thing which not one in one hundred millions under­stands the least bit about, except that it is something “civilised”! It is for this that I am down on the Young Turks; and I frankly admit I feel no sorrow in their downfall, since it will serve to disillusion such Orientals (including a few of my own countrymen), as may have caught the “Constitution” fever badly.64

Experiments with constitutionalism in other Asian states elicited similar royal reactions. With respect to Persia, where revolutionaries had succeeded in forcing the shah to accept a popular assembly in 1906, the King wrote: “The Persian people have been saddled with a parliament that they understand nothing about and do not want, and which has caused the country more trouble than all the most incompetent shahs put together.”65

The last country to be dealt with by Vajiravudh in his 1912 series of articles was Japan,66 which he “felt sure” would be brought up “as an example and an argument” to disprove his allegations that Asian states were not ready for constitutional government. Vajiravudh maintained his ground; he readily admitted the successes Japan had achieved but held “that Japan does not owe her present greatness to constitutionalism; on the contrary, Japan has attained her present position, not on account of constitutionalism, but rather in spite of it.”67 And the King strongly substantiated his argument with abundant evidence that the crucial decisions and fundamental policies that led to Japan’s progress had been taken long before the adoption of the 1890 Constitution. Further, the Japanese government since 1890, wrote the King, could not be called a pure parliamentary regime; it was rather “a bureaucratic monarchy, not to say oligarchic”68 govern­ment with at best a constitutional instrumentality in “the experimental stage.”69

The lessons for Siam were clear. A small group of young people with “the wrong kind of education, and an insufficiency thereof” had picked up ideas of Western political institutions and sought to apply them in Asia with catastrophic results.70 Where their revolutions had succeeded, they had merely instituted “synthetic constitutions” without affecting basic problems or traditional political points of view. The revolutionaries had proved that they could stir things up, could destroy; they had yet to show that they could build anew. Using a dramatic example, the King pointed to the success of Chinese agitators in getting their followers to cut their pigtails. What, asked the King, had this to do with “the inner consciousness of a man”? How would any tonsorial technique enable a person to pass, at a stroke, “from 71the darkness of political ignorance to the brilliant light of political understanding”?71

Vajiravudh obviously had men such as those involved in the abortive 1912 coup in mind when he advised his people to learn from mistakes made elsewhere and to beware of “that insidious foe, who comes in the guise of a friend, a self-styled ‘patriot’ with his mouth cram full of dead theories specially dug up and dressed in attractive garments to catch your fancies!”72

The show of constitutionalism without the substance was worse than useless; in the King’s trenchant English, “… the glory of a nation who assumes the cloak of Constitutionalism … [is] like the glory of the ass who wore the lion’s skin! If only the ass had not started braying, he would not have been found out so soon; but what ass could ever help braying?”73

Siam had its own national “traditions and fundamental principles” that could not be swept away “with one magnificent wave of a magic wand.” The King denied that he was a reactionary; he was a conserva­tive, perhaps, but not a reactionary. He favored reforms, he said, when they were needed; he favored real liberty and real equality and not artificial representations of these virtues. But, the King concluded, Siam not only was not ready for democratic government but would be ruined by such government. He stated that “any precipitate move­ment in the direction of constitutionalism would cost us dear.” It would cause confusion that would lead to results “too appalling” to mention.74 The Young Turks, he said, had succeeded in destroying Turkey in three short years, “but Siam will not take so long to destroy. A year, at most two will be enough.”75 Revolutionary confusion in some states was damaging, but in Siam’s case it would be the end; China might lose territory, Turkey might lose its imperial lands, but tiny Siam would simply cease to exist.

The King did not argue publicly against the theory of constitu­tional government on general principles. He admitted that progressive states in Europe and America had such governments. But Europe and America were not Asia. And, he pointed out: “Where a nation has not gradually grown up in the understanding and practice of self-government, it is sheer absurdity to talk sentimental nonsense about setting up a parliamentary regime.” Democratic political systems took centuries to bring about; they came slowly and only at the price of the blood and tears of countless people. England, for example, had taken several centuries to “grow” its parliamentary practice. And although the United States had started off its history as a constitutional 72republic, it had been able to do so because it was founded by English­men who were “already well-used to the representative method of government.”76

But privately the King freely criticized the basis of constitution­alism. Several pages in his diary, written for his own benefit and the education of his closest courtiers, are devoted to a hard look at the constitutional system of government. First of all, he admitted that absolute monarchy had its weaknesses; the overriding one was the danger of the ascent of an incapable monarch. An unwise, selfish, or cruel king could do incalculable harm to the nation. Constitutional governments sought to remove that danger by placing power in the hands of the people. A government responsible to the people that could be changed whenever the people chose was, he said, an excellent system—on paper! But in practice the system had many imperfec­tions. The citizenry by and large lacked enough knowledge to govern themselves. And the necessity for the people to govern themselves through elected representatives led to all sorts of aberrations of the democratic ideal, such as party politics, bribery, vote-buying, and the spoils system. The King’s criticisms were reasoned. He did not stand as an unalterable opponent. He wrote, “If any responsible and well intentioned groups should petition me to grant a constitution … I would be glad to consider it.” More significantly he said that the people of Siam would determine their own future. Whenever the great mass of citizens made clear they wanted constitutional govern­ment, whatever its imperfections, “there’d be no one able to oppose them.” But clearly that day had not yet arrived.77

Even though Vajiravudh professed admiration for progressive European states with parliaments, he could not suppress, privately at least, a certain satisfaction in a minor “setback” to British constitu­tionalism that occurred in 1917. The King had learned that the new prime minister, Lloyd George, had made bold changes in the cabinet to make it “less unwieldy and unpractical as an instrument of govern­ment in these critical times.” Vajiravudh wrote in a letter to his minister to France:

This change will have the effect of causing some chagrin to “politicians” all over the world, whose theory of constitutional government has thereby received a direct blow to its prestige, since it has been examined and found wanting in times of national crisis. It is surprising—and also very refreshing—to find how silent our own “nationalists” and “Con­stitutionalists” have become! Well, well, “It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good,” and this dreadful war has been a blessing in disguise to those who are lucky enough to be able to stay out of it!78

73The King’s reactions to republicanism and constitutionalism were by no means peculiar to him; they were echoed by other leaders in government and the royal family. Prince Devawongse, for example, shared Vajiravudh’s view that Siam was already, in effect, a constitu­tional monarchy and strongly rejected the idea of a parliament for Siam. Writing to the King in 1919, he pointed to the danger of rushing “half-ripe” to parliamentarianism, which in Russia had led only to the tyrannies of Bolshevik enslavement of the people. And he speci­fically mentioned the danger that members of parliament might easily succumb to pressure groups in the community and enact self-serving legislation such as reinstitution of the gambling houses that Vajira­vudh had taken action against in 1916.79

Prince Paribatra, in a letter written to the King shortly after the abortive coup of 1912, defended the monarchy and strongly supported Vajiravudh personally. He attributed the growing political con­sciousness of some people to the spread of education; to the influx of foreign peoples, that is, the Chinese, who were accustomed to anti-monarchic views; to the growth in the number of officials, many of whom tended to forget their obligations to the king; to the increasing influence of an irresponsible press; and to the operations of lawyers whose search for legal loopholes tended to reduce respect for royal decrees. The Prince came up with solutions. The first was to make clear “that there is but one king who has the power to govern the country.” All government officials, from cabinet ministers on down, should recognize that they were but the servants of the king and executors of his policy. A second solution was to make certain that the welfare of the people was paramount, that government did not exist for the welfare of officialdom. Thirdly, the government should make its purposes and plans better known to the public; it should explain its actions, preferably through its own press organ. Lastly, a law regulating the press should be enacted.80

After reading some press criticisms, Vajiravudh’s brother, Prince Chakrabongs, wrote a memorandum to the King to the effect that the absolute monarchy could use an escape valve for attacks in the form of a revival of the long-defunct Legislative Council established in 1874 by King Chulalongkorn. The King replied that, although he was a constitutionalist at heart, he did not believe that Siam was ready for a proper legislature; as for the halfway house of an appointed council, that would not still criticism, for it would be sure to be attacked as but a rubber-stamp institution.81

The King summed up many of his ideas on politics in a short play written the year before he died.82 Called Coup d’état and set in a 74mythical kingdom, the play recalled many of the events of 1912. The play deals with an attempt by some revolutionaries to overthrow a king who is unjustly blamed for all the ills of the country; the coup fails, and the king is discovered to be a man of great worth whose “desire has always been to govern his people so that they should obtain as much happiness as possible”83 but who has been prevented from putting his progressive policies into effect because of the obstruction of the government’s all-powerful ministers and parlia­ment.

Through the speeches of characters in the play, the King gave vent to many of his own ideas. Monarchy is praised. Republicans are damned. Revolutionaries who desire the removal of the king are made out to be selfish men, traitors, or people “too enamoured of theo­ries.”84 One character looks at China and comments: “China has been a Republic for several years, but has it become any better than it was before?”85 Another looks at Russia and concludes that the Russian people are suffering more than ever: thousands have died; many must eat “the flesh of dead and putrid horses”; and “instead of having freedom they are being oppressed a thousand times worse than before.”86 These various views are summed up in one remarkable speech:

I will say briefly, that every one of those who have expressed the desire for changing the form of Government from a Monarchy to a Republic have no reason for their desire except a personal one and from want of judgement, believing the words of demagogues and of newspapers owned by aliens or by people with personal grievances, who are endeavouring by specious words to foster sedition and rebellion. Comrades! We are true-born Coronians, so why do you want to listen to the words of aliens? We have received from our ancestors a noble heritage, namely birth in the Coronian Nation which we all love and want to cherish; shall we sell our birth-right to the Jews and the aliens? Let us not do it, comrades! Be patient. It is true that we are at present passing through some hard times, but it is nothing so bad as we shall see as slaves of the Bolsheviks. Do you want a Republic, comrades. That will be the first step leading us into slavery under the Bolsheviks! That will be the first step towards an inferno that is hotter than the nether most hell!87

On democracy in general, one character in the play notes that such governments do work where historical traditions have favored them; the American government, for example, is a success, but the United States, after all, was founded by Englishmen “and no people under­stand the principles of constitutional government better than the 75English.”88 But the applications of democracy are like doses of medicine:

If the medicine we choose is too strong it may do more harm than good, as for instance a purgative if taken in excess may make us so ill that we may even die of it. Strong purgatives are useful in that they cleanse the system of undesirable elements, but they also weaken our system for a time so that we become less able to resist the invasion of disease germs from without, and if the new disease should get a firm hold the result might be fatal.89

Dusit Thani

What has to be one of the world’s most unusual expressions of political thought was the miniature city called Dusit Thani that King Vajiravudh had built in 1918. Dusit Thani is still the subject of controversy. Courtiers who were once close to the King have written of it as an experiment in democracy, as evidence of the King’s intention to establish parliamentary government in Siam, as the first planting of the seeds of democratic thought in Siam.90 Detractors have called Dusit Thani mere fun and games, playacting or puppeteering.

Dusit Thani was indeed a play: the setting was a beguiling miniature town; the owner, director, and principal actor was the King; and there was a cast of hundreds, the King’s closest courtiers. The substance of the play enacted, or at least some scenes of it, were indeed political.91

Dusit Thani, however, was first and foremost a model city, built in Dusit Gardens behind the royal palace and later moved to more spacious quarters behind Phya Thai Palace.92 The city was elaborate, complete with houses, palaces, temples, roads, rivers and canals, trees and parks, fountains, waterfalls, and electric lights—an en­chanted fairyland by more than one account. The King was chief planner and chief architect. The city had two daily newspapers and one weekly journal.93 It had a fire department, electric company, sewage department, and health department. Parties and ceremonies were held on its grounds. And boat races of miniature boats on its miniature river were held almost nightly “for relaxation after work” under rules established by the Dusit Naval Association.94

The political life at Dusit Thani started in 1918 with the election of a mayor in October and was formalized with a constitution granted by the King in November, amended slightly in December.95 The preamble to the constitution stated that Vajiravudh’s purpose was to offer “residents” of Dusit Thani (i.e., his courtiers) the opportunity to study self-government. The government’s purview was, of course, 76restricted to the miniature affairs of the miniature city. Ultimate power was retained by the King, who might at any time revoke any action at Dusit Thani that he disapproved of.

The constitution of Dusit Thani called for popular elections, with suffrage extended to all “residents,” who numbered about 200. The elected mayor and his appointed cabinet were to serve for one year. An assembly of representatives from each district was provided for in the amended constitution. In order to stimulate interest in the political process, the King created two political parties, a Blue Ribbon Party led by himself and a Red Ribbon Party led by his closest courtier, Čhaophraya Ram. Some seven elections for mayor were held in the first two years, with at least one mayor’s career ended abruptly by the successful politicking of the King’s party.96

In terms of its real effect on the world outside the palace, Dusit Thani had no influence at all. In fact, very little news of the existence of Dusit Thani appeared in the public press.97 Some writers have suggested, however, that the ultimate plan was to extend the Dusit Thani idea into the regular government, starting with the provincial government at Samut Sakhο̨n, a province close to Bangkok.98 The Deputy Minister of the Interior apparently talked to the King about conducting such an experiment on the provincial level.99 The closest the King came in an official document to declaring Dusit Thani a real model for the real world was in his dedicatory comments on the opening of Dusit Thani’s municipal hall on July 9, 1919: “Our method of proceeding in this little country of ours will I trust be an example for Siam, but to achieve such rapid success as has this little country is not possible, for there are obstacles.”100

A final assessment of Dusit Thani’s significance as a representation of Vajiravudh’s thoughts is hard to make. Certainly much of the miniature city was for fun. And firm evidence of an underlying serious intent is scanty. Yet serious purposes cannot be ruled out; the King was fond of thinking in utopian terms, of setting forth models and ideal types which would spread their message as a pebble spreads ripples in a pond. Serious or not, Dusit Thani gives us yet another instance of the King’s mode of thought, for Dusit Thani, the model of democracy, was entirely a monarchic creation. It was conceived by the King, was managed by the King, and was expanded or curtailed depending only on the monarchic perception of need.

A Democratic King

Despite the abundant proofs that Vajiravudh was fully aware of his absolute powers as a Siamese monarch and was anxious, in fact, to 77focus more attention on the monarchy than ever in order to build national unity, the image of him among the Thai is that he was a democratic king. One author entitles a chapter on Vajiravudh “The Liberal”;101 others refer to him variously as “an expert in democracy,” “a true believer in the principles of democracy in its true sense,” and “a very democratic king.”102

In part this image of Vajiravudh may have derived from his efforts to endear himself to his people, to move among them more freely than was customary, and to include the public in various festivals. From the very start of the reign, elements of the general population were included for the first time in such events as the cremation rites for Chulalongkorn and the coronation ceremonies for Vajiravudh.103 There were, of course, countless other official ceremonies that had to be performed, age-old obligations of a monarch who was supposed to have inherent magic powers. These ceremonies were traditionally performed by the king for the public, but not with the public, and it would appear that Vajiravudh performed many of them perfunctorily. But not all of them. One such ceremony was the royal kathin, the rite of presentation of robes to Buddhist monks. In 1913 the King, breaking custom, decided to go on an unofficial kathin by boat to a small temple and soon found himself the “object of a warm popular demonstration.”104 A newspaper writer commented on the event as follows:

In their enthusiasm the people afloat hemmed the King’s boat all round. The officials would have liked to keep the distance a little bigger, but His Majesty enjoyed the unaccustomed nearness of the people. The Royal acknowledgement, oft repeated, of the people’s greetings, was one of the ways of fulfilment of the Coronation promise to extend his favour to all his people. The occasion does not arise often as regards the great bulk of the people, but this was one, and the opportunity was taken advantage of.105

Another impromptu kathin occurred a few days later. The King noted in his diary that while on a pleasure jaunt he happened on a rural kathin. He was invited to take part, and he did—joining in on the prayers, the gift-giving, the noodle repast (“it was delicious”), and play-watching.106 The unexpected success of these events led Vajira­vudh to try to repeat them, and “people’s kathin” followed in 1914, 1915, and 1916. The later affairs, however, lacked spontaneity, and one feels that the real desire of the King to come into closer rapport with his people was thwarted by the elaborate preparations of his 78courtiers to give him a good show, with safe official floats substituted for the lively enthusiasm of an unpredictable crowd.

Probably more important, however, in giving Vajiravudh the “democratic” image was his practice of surrounding himself with courtiers of less than princely rank, with whom he spent much time. The Thai definition of “democratic” here really means egalitarian rather than democratic in a political sense. Although the highest levels of government continued to be occupied by senior nobles and princes of elevated rank, the relations between these nobles and princes and the King were not close107—a fact that accounted for many of the charges of government inefficiency that were made against Vajiravudh’s reign. However the King’s habits affected the administration, it is true that the guests at Vajiravudh’s dinner parties, his social companions, his “neighbors” at Dusit Thani, his most trusted Wild Tigers, the actors in his dramas all came from a relatively small circle of mahatlek (court pages) and others in the inner circle of the Ministry of the Palace. And these men represented various classes. Many were commoners. Some were of Chinese descent. Those whose ancestors were royal were of lower royal ranks. It was because of this choice of associates that Vajiravudh was awarded a reputation for favoring sycophants by those who criticized him and the name of democrat by those who admired him. In any case, it does not appear that the King chose his associates for political purposes; rather, he seemed simply to prefer to spend time with men of humble origin, whom he treated with remarkable freedom and familiarity.108

Notes

1. The fullest account of the 1912 abortive coup is by Rian Srichandr and Netra Poonwiwat: Prawat pattiwat khrang raek khο̨ng thai r.s. 130 (Bangkok: Kim Li Nguan, 1960). This is an invaluable story by two of the principal participants (both of whom were interviewed by the author in 1969). Although the story was not written until almost fifty years after the beginning of the events described, it is in main outline remarkably consistent with contemporary records. The best of these records are the written testimonies (kham chičhaeng) and oral testimonies (kham hai kan) of 100 men suspected of complicity. These testimonies and other documents of the time are in NA 252/1. Unless otherwise noted, material on the coup party in the following pages is based on these archival sources.

2. BT, March 2, 1912.

3. The retirement of Prince Rabi in 1910 was probably a result of King Chulalongkorn’s decision to support the heir. The Prince’s retirement was officially attributed to poor health; one senior official stated that the real reason was that the Prince had had a dispute with his father and that feelings ran high in the Ministry of Justice in the Prince’s support. See Sathaphο̨n Malila, Phračhaobο̨romwongthoe kromluang ratburi direkrit (Bangkok: Thai Khasem, 1953), pp. 45–46.

4. One rumor, for example, told of the King’s demotion and beating of an official who refused to let his wife perform in one of the King’s plays. This story, which made “a very unpleasant impression” on Europeans and upper-class Thai, was printed in Lloyd’s Weekly News for December 17, 1911. The clipping and a Thai translation of it were found among the effects of one of the members of the coup party. The story was well known among coup members and strengthened their view that the “bad press” their King was receiving abroad was pulling their nation down.

5. In Thai: Sia chip ya sia sat (Wild Tigers); Sia chip di kwa sia chat (coup).

6. This view of various members of the coup party was undoubtedly 285based on rumors that circulated in Siam of Chinese intervention during the Chinese strike of 1910 even before the fall of the Manchus. See BT, June 1 and June 3, 1910; May 12, 1911.

7. The rumor circulated that the Minister of Defense, Prince Chira, was out of favor with the King and had left for Europe because he was granted so little say in government. Although Prince Chira was certainly not one of the King’s confidants, his reason for going to Europe early in 1912 was indeed his health. He was operated on in May 1912 and died in February 1914. See personal letter of Prince Chira to the King, May 8, 1912, in NA 252/1. The Prince spoke of the conspiracy as a “madman’s dream” and prayed that the King “be preserved in good health, in order to lead, as only you can lead, the Destiny of our beloved country.”

8. The formula of 10 percent of salary for the first month, 8 percent for the second month, and 5 percent for the third month was adopted, but it was never rigorously applied.

9. The median age of those sentenced to jail was twenty-three.

10. Rian and Netra, p. 70.

11. NA 252/1; Rian and Netra, pp. 137–138; interview with Čharun Sattamet.

12. Rian and Netra, p. 11.

13. See BT, May 6, 1912.

14. Rian and Netra, pp. 118, 148–151. The authors speak of the initial intention of the court martial to keep the sentences light, to between three and five years. After the threat, the King reportedly became very angry, demanded that the court reexamine some of the prisoners, and indicated his feeling that harsher sentences were in order.

15. Prince Rabi had resigned from the government in 1910. See Luang Čhakpani Sisinlawisut, Ru̓ang khο̨ng čhaophraya mahithο̨n (Bangkok, Tiranasan, 1956), pp. 76–78. The Prince resumed his government career immediately after the coup as Minister of Agriculture. It is possible that the new appointment was meant to insure the Prince’s loyalty.

16. BT, May 6, 1912. See also Rian and Netra, pp. 157–161.

17. BT, May 6, 1912.

18. Ibid., March 5, March 14, April 3, and May 6, 1912.

19. Ibid., April 23, 1912.

20. Ibid., May 6, 1912.

21. Siam Observer, May 7, 1912.

22. BT, April 18, 1912.

23. Ibid. The personal property of the King was considerable, thanks in large measure to private investments in lands, buildings, and even provincial markets by King Chulalongkorn.

24. See chapter 3 on the Wild Tigers and chapter 5 on the military. 286

25. NA 146, “Khwamhen ru̓ang nai thahan khuan phrο̨mkan khit tang samakhom phu̓a utnun ratchakan thahan nai kο̨ngthapbok prathet sayam”; London Times, June 14, 1912; BT, June 12, 1912.

26. “Khwam pen chat doi thae čhing,” Phraratchaniphon thi naru (Bang­kok: Fu̓ang Aksο̨n, 1963), p. 141.

27. Plukčhai su̓apa, pp. 36–45.

28. Ibid., p. 45.

29. November 13, 1915, in Phraratchadamrat nai phrabatsomdet, p. 145.

30. Speech to His Majesty’s Own Wild Tiger Guards of Phuket, April 23, 1917, in Phrabο̨romrachowat su̓apa, p. 101.

31. The moral rules for officials are the subject of a long essay by the King, “Lak ratchakan,” in Lak ratchakan lae khlong suphasit (Bangkok: Krom Phaenthi Thahan, 1966) and in NA 210, dated February 20, 1915. See also speech to officials, April 1, 1914, in Phraratchadamrat nai phrabat­somdet, pp. 177–180.

32. “Khwam khaočhai phit,” letter of May 7, 1915, in Phraratchaniphon thi naru, pp. 114–115.

33. See discussion of the “auspicious signs” in chapter 2.

34. For example, speech to the Wild Tigers on November 21, 1914, in CMHSP 8, no. 7 (November 1914): 277; speech to Boy Scout leaders, November 13, 1915, in Phraratchadamrat lae phrabο̨romrachowat (Bangkok: Phračhan, 1958), p. 58.

35. See, for example, speech to Royal Pages School November 13, 1914, in Phraratchadamrat nai phrabatsomdet, p. 100. This statement about the accessibility of Thai royalty is not quite true; traditionally, Thai kings were rarely exposed to public gaze. See discussion in chapter 2. See also Jeremy Kemp, Aspects of Siamese Kingship in the Seventeenth Century (Bangkok: Social Science Review, 1969), pp. 22–23.

36. A Siam Miscellany (Bangkok: Siam Observer, 1912), pp. 65–66. This Miscellany is a reprint of articles written by “Asvabahu” that appeared in the Siam Observer from August 5 to December 31, 1912.

37. Ibid., p. 54.

38. Speech of November 14, 1916, in Phrabο̨romrachowat su̓apa, p. 88.

39. Poem on leadership quoted in S[awai] Watthanaset, Kiattikhun phra mongkutklao, (Bangkok: Watthanaphanit, 1957), pp. 724–725.

40. Ibid.

41. See Wyatt, pp. 89–90; Chula Chakrabongse, Lords of Life, pp. 261–263.

42. “Ru̓ang raingan kanprachum palimen sayam,” in Thawipanya, no. 18 (September 1905), pp. 643–655. The author used the pen name Nο̨ila, a verbal switch for Nai Lο̨, i.e., Mr. Tease. The sketch contains many plays on words.

43. Thukthawin, “Palimen,” in Thawipanya, no. 7 (October 1904), pp. 1–6. 287

44. “Sirat,” in Nangsu̓phim thai, May 18, 1917.

45. Speech to Royal Pages School, November 12, 1912, in Phraratcha­damrat nai phrabatsomdet, p. 35. Along these lines is a pertinent remark in a play: “A king must regularly listen to the voices of the people; if he does not, he will be got rid of” (Wiwaha phrasamut [n.p., n.d.], p. 106).

46. “Sirat,” in Nangsu̓phim thai, May 18, 1917.

47. Speech to Royal Pages School, November 12, 1913, in Phraratcha­damrat nai phrabatsomdet, p. 56.

48. “The Cult of Imitation,” in Clogs on Our Wheels (Bangkok: Siam Observer, 1915), p. 161.

49. Speech of June 30, 1925, in Phraratchadamrat lae phrabο̨romrachowat, p. 56.

50. “Sirat,” in Nangsu̓phim thai, May 18, 1917; “Mu̓ang thai čhong tu̓n thoet,” Pramuan bot phraratchaniphon (phak pakinnaka suan thi 2) (Bangkok: Sirisan, 1961), p. 29; “Khwam pen chat doi thae čhing,” pp. 131–135.

51. See, for example, A Siam Miscellany, which includes “The Affairs of China,” “The Failure of the Young Turks,” “The Fruits of Turkish Constitu­tionalism,” “Japan for Example.” The articles in Thai appeared in Nangsu̓­phim thai; the articles in English, in the Siam Observer.

52. “Khwam kračhat kračhai haeng mu̓ang čhin,” in Phraratchaniphon thi naru, p. 306; this article served as the introduction to a translation into Thai of a long article on China by E. J. Dillon that had appeared in the October 1912 issue of Nineteenth Century and After.

53. “The Cult of Imitation,” pp. 163–164.

54. A Siam Miscellany, pp. 1–18.

55. Ibid., pp. 17–18.

56. Ibid., pp. 27–48.

57. Ibid., p. 27.

58. Ibid., p. 30.

59. Ibid., p. 31.

60. Ibid., p. 76 (in the conclusion to the whole series of articles on foreign developments).

61. Ibid., pp. 31–32.

62. Ibid., p. 33.

63. Ibid., p. 47.

64. Ibid., p. 45.

65. Ibid., p. 26.

66. Ibid., pp. 49–76.

67. Ibid., p. 49.

68. Ibid., p. 71. 288

69. Ibid., p. 75.

70. See “Education and Unrest in the East,” in A Siam Miscellany, pp. 19–26; the quotation is from p. 26.

71. A Siam Miscellany, p. 74.

72. Ibid., p. 76.

73. Ibid., p. 40.

74. Ibid., pp. 75–76.

75. Ibid., p. 37.

76. Ibid., p. 75. See also “Mu̓ang thai čhong tu̓n thoet,” p. 28.

77. Čhotmaihetraiwan, pp. 48–62.

78. NA 223/18, King to Prince Charoon, January 28, 1917, written in English.

79. NA 217/3, February 10, 1919.

80. NA 217/2, letter received June 8, 1912.

81. Chula Chakrabongse, Lords of Life, p. 290, based on unpublished documents found among the papers of Prince Chakrabongs (his father). The Prince’s memorandum is dated April 21, 1917; the King’s reply, April 30.

82. Coup d’état (Bangkok: Daily Mail, n.d.). In Thai, Chuai amnat! (Bang­kok: Thanit, 1974).

83. Coup d’état, p. 70.

84. Ibid., p. 83.

85. Ibid., p. 19.

86. Ibid., p. 48.

87. Ibid., pp. 63–65.

88. Ibid., pp. 65–66.

89. Ibid., pp. 43–44.

90. Chamun Amorn Darunrak, Phraratchakaraniyakit samkhan ru̓ang hetphon (Bangkok: Khurusapha, 1969), p. 217; Čhamroen Sawat-chutho, “Dusit thani”; Phraya Sunthο̨nphiphit to Chamun Amorn, in Amorn, Dusit thani, p. 322.

91. Amorn, Dusit thani, p. 108.

92. Ibid., p. 40. Construction at Dusit Gardens started on July 21, 1918. When the Queen Mother died in October 1919, the King moved to her palace at Phya Thai, and Dusit Thani’s new “city pillar” was erected at this site on December 19, 1919. Precursors of Dusit Thani were a small model city built at Amphawa Palace in 1903 and a model government, without the miniature city, established at Parusakawan Palace in 1907. The immediate stimulus for Dusit Thani would appear to have been a sand city the King built while on holiday for his health at his beach palace at Hat Čhao Samran in May, June, and July of 1918. See ibid., pp. 22–24. 289

93. The newspapers were Dusit samai and Dusit sakkhi (earlier called Dusit Recorder). The journal was named Dusit samit.

94. This “association” printed a rule book, Khο̨ bangkhap pokkhrο̨ng dusit nawik samosο̨n (Bangkok, November 11, 1919). In all likelihood it was written by the King.

95. For the constitution and its amendment, see Pramuan bot phraratcha­niphon, pp. 75–91. Also in Amorn, Dusit thani, pp. 57–73.

96. Amorn, Dusit thani, pp. 98–103; Čhamroen Sawat-chutho, “Dusit thani,” p. 242.

97. Only a few very brief references have been found in the BT, for example. One newsman of the times suggested that public notices of Dusit Thani were forbidden.

98. Amorn, Dusit thani, p. iii.

99. Ibid., pp. 322–325, quoting from Phraya Sunthο̨nphiphit; Čhamroen Sawat-chutho, “Dusit thani,” p. 246. One writer suggests that the King planned to consider adoption of a constitution for the whole country along Dusit Thani lines in 1926; see Amorn, Dusit thani, p. 325, quoting from Phraya Anuchitchanchai, Saranukrom, 3 (1934).

100. Quoted in Amorn, Dusit thani, p. 78.

101. Chula Chakrabongse, Lords of Life, p. 268.

102. Thai Nο̨i (pseud.), 6 phaendin, pp. 149, 349; Bangkok Daily Mail, November 26, 1925; Rian and Netra, p. 225; various interviews in 1969–70.

103. BT, March 17 and December 6, 1911.

104. Ibid., October 27, 1913.

105. Ibid., November 1, 1913.

106. Čhotmaihetraiwan, p. 109. Entry for November 3, 1913.

107. A typical example: shortly after Vajiravudh became king, Prince Paribatra, the Minister of Marine, went to attend him, waiting for the call to come in audience as he had done earlier during the reign of Chulalongkorn; the call never came. See Mο̨mčhaoying Prasongsom Bο̨riphat, Banthu̓k khwamsongčham bang ru̓ang (Bangkok: Phračhan, 1956), pp. 15–18.

108. Amorn, Dusit thani, pp. 311–312; King Chulalongkorn, Samnao phraratchahatlekha kap prawat čhaophraya yommarat (Bangkok: Bam­rungtham, 1939), p. (115); Francis Bowes Sayre, The Passing of Extraterritori­ality in Siam (New York: Institute of Pacific Relations), p. 17; Chula Chakra­bongse, Lords of Life, p. 273.

Additional Information

ISBN
9780824880316
MARC Record
OCLC
1053885129
Launched on MUSE
2018-09-19
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-ND
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